Hey everyone! It’s almost unbelievable how quickly this year has flown by, it seems like only a few months ago I published last years ‘end of year review’ post with the roadmap and the huge amount of updates that had gone on that year, and while I haven’t managed to check off many things that were on that roadmap yet I’ve still made an incredible amount of progress with the platform as a whole and the direction this project is heading in is brighter now than ever.
Before this year I spent much of my time scoping out new potential customers and reaching out to people to offer my services. I had apps on my phone that alerted me whenever somebody mentioned publicly on social media that they needed a website built and I’d swoop in and put my name forward. This year I’ve not spent any time at all searching for new customers. Every single new signup this year has been through them finding me either through referrals, search engines, or total chance, so while I still may not have filled up my baseline target of client slots quite yet I’ve been able to spend much more time working on development and improving the platform and have been able to make breakthroughs that I didn’t even think possible before..
I’ve managed to successfully cut a website out from the platform and move it to a new server completely independent of the main platform – something that before this year I said & believed was impossible. I’ve managed to set up a local server for platform development giving me much more freedom safe in the knowledge that my experiments wouldn’t mess anything up on the live platform for anybody, and completely transforming and streamlining the entire platform development process – again something that before this year I had attempted several times and thought was impossible. I’ve made breakthroughs with many bugs that had long been causing headaches and things that before this year I thought were just minor inconveniences that we’d have to learn to live with – caching for example. I’ve even planned out several new ideas for new directions and secured pathways to making many of those plans happen.
The past few months I’ve been quietly working on my development server on a huge series of updates and improvements that will completely transform the platform. The majority of those updates were scheduled to be finished and pushed to the live platform in December in a series of 4 waves. Unfortunately December hasn’t been too kind to me – I started the month with the flu, then earlier in the month I had food poisoning, and since then I’ve had another nasty bug to recover from. Even writing this I’ve half-filled my bin with snotty tissues. Because of this I was only able to push the first wave of updates before the end of the year, and the remaining 3 waves will instead hit the live platform in January.
Here’s what’s new in December with this first big wave of updates:
Websites on the platform which have an unpaid & expired subscription status will now get archived automatically until a site subscription plan has been activated. This is actually the original behaviour which was broken last year with the last major platform revamp, so this is actually just a bugfix. I’m glad the issue has finally been fixed though as too many times this year people have had me build them a site on the platform and they’ve just not paid for it, while still keeping full access and using their sites the same as any paying customer – which is unfair not only to me, but to the people who actually support the platform and make their payments. One tweak has been made to this function though: The message displayed on the front-end of archived sites originally mentioned the reason for the site being archived (“This website has been archived until payment has been made.“), this caused great upset with a long-time customer who’s last payment failed causing his site to be archived and display this message to all his visitors, and while factually correct it’s understandable why he was upset. Seeing this reaction and understanding the reason for it the archived message has been changed to be more vague (“This website is temporarily unavailable.“).
The site signup process has also been totally revamped. The signup pages have been merged with the site subscription page, and new users now need to choose a plan and enter payment info BEFORE their free trial will begin. While this new behaviour may put off some potential new customers, it should eliminate the huge number of bot signups and also increase engagement levels of those who actually sign up creating a better experience for everybody by ‘separating the wheat from the chaff’. The subscription can always be cancelled before the end of the trial period in which case no payment will be taken.
The site subscription page has also been redesigned. When looking at existing subscriptions you will now see the title of the site belonging to the subscription making it easier for customers with multiple sites to keep track of what they’re looking at. A login form has been added to the top of the page allowing existing customers to continue to log in and view their site subscription directly from that page. The PayPal checkout button has been changed, period selectors have been made larger, payment gateway selectors have also been made larger and the colours changed to match the period selectors, the coupon area border has been removed and the actual coupon input box given a border.
New sites on the platform will also now start differently to how they have up until now to try and improve the onboarding process. Previously upon creating a site on the platform new customers were given a completely bare site and thrown into the deep end with only an ecommerce setup wizard to get started. There was no homepage defined and all they had to go on was a sample page, sample blog post, and the knowledge base (which is lacking much-needed content). I mentioned in last year’s roadmap that I wanted to improve this process as much as possible to make it as easy as possible for new customers to create their website on their own without me needing to do all the ‘heavy lifting’ every time. It has taken quite some time but I’ve finally laid out the first part of this process. Now new sites will start off with a template homepage defined and fully editable with the page builder, a little styling with the customiser as well as a menu pre-set to include new pages, and a few sample products which should hopefully make the process seem much more simple. This “starter template” is geared towards ecommerce customers though as most of you know the platform is suited to a range of website types, not just ecommerce, so I plan on creating 1 or 2 more starter templates for different website types and giving new customers the option to choose upon signup. Of course all sites will still have access to the same features as before and people choosing a business template will still be able to run an ecommerce site and vice versa, the idea is simply to make it easier for new customers to get started and this seems the best way to do it.
I posted a roadmap as part of last year’s end of year review. Since then a LOT has changed, though many topics that were touched upon have already made their way into fruition: As mentioned in this post the onboarding process has been altered drastically and will continue to be improved upon in the future. Monthly update posts are now a standard thing. The admin bar got a revamp for easier access to core features. The addition of the sticky shopping cart app giving your customers the ability to easily see the contents of their shopping carts and continue to checkout at a glance without having to leave the page they’re on to go to the cart page. There’s a new option in the customiser to display category images on the category pages. Several new apps have been added like the Instagram Widget, Sticky Shopping Cart Tab, Shipstation Integration, Popups, and many existing apps have also received updates and improvements too with many more set to drop with the final waves of updates that were originally planned for the end of this year.
Having said that there’s still so much more planned from last year’s Roadmap: Fill up the baseline target of client slots, Complete the platform documentation & knowledge base, Make the platform more appealing to 3rd party web designers and move away from including design as part of the service I offer, Put together an email newsletter for these monthly updates, Add notifications to the admin bar, and Notify blog commenters of replies via email.
There’s also the side-project that I mentioned last year: Free Little Shop. The idea here was to create a stripped-down version of the platform with free & premium options specifically for ecommerce sites. This idea is still very much just an idea at this stage but it has grown into something much bigger thanks to both time & feedback. While Free Little Shop is still a side-project that is currently on the back-burner, the idea behind it has evolved into several side-projects based off the same basic idea – several “forks” of the main platform each adjusted and developed specifically to cater for certain niches. At this point that’s all I can really say until more roots are put in place, but it also leads on to the idea of forking the platform as it is to cater for different currencies…
I mentioned in an earlier post that I’d finally acquired the thatwebsiteguy.co.uk domain, which means I now currently own thatwebsiteguy.net, that-website-guy.com, and thatwebsiteguy.co.uk. At the moment all domains point to the same platform and due to restrictions with payment gateways all my prices are in £GBP. While this is great for my UK customers as well as myself living in the UK, it is sometimes an issue for my US customers many of whom would prefer to pay in $USD, so with this idea I’d be able to create a fork of the main platform for the .co.uk domain, move over only my UK-based customers, and change the currency of the platform on the .net domain to $USD. In this event all development updates would apply to both instances of the platform, the only thing separating them would be the currency you pay for your site in. Doing this presents several pros (scalability, customer satisfaction) and cons (duplicating development updates, SEO?) and all points would need to be investigated and explored more thoroughly before this could become an actual thing.
For the more immediate future the road looks bright with a whole host of new features set to drop in the next few waves of updates which are now scheduled for January. Until now I’ve been very quiet about what these updates entail so I’m going to lift the lid a little and mention a few things: Ecommerce shipping options, Printful, Apple pay.
After the January updates and fine-tuning everything as much as possible my next priority needs to be filling those client slots to put me in a financial position to fully support myself as well as the platform. I’ve been incredibly lucky so far the past few years that I’ve not taken up a day job and have had enough time to work on developing the platform to what it is today thanks to the incredible support from my family and friends. I’d like to thank each and every one of them for allowing me to get this far, as well as all my customers both old and new for keeping me going.
Happy new year to everybody, let’s make 2018 the biggest yet.
As always any questions, feedback, ideas, or suggestions are more than welcome. I’m reachable on social media (mostly on Twitter), as well as via the form on the Contact page, or with a support ticket.